‘Working at our absolute capacity’: Long emergency wait times affecting Alberta children’s hospitals

Some Alberta health-care workers say emergency room wait times are getting longer and impacting pediatric patients.

Health-care staff on the frontlines are raising concerns about what they call unprecedented wait times that are putting the system’s stability at risk.

Doctors say that wait times at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton and the Alberta Children’s Hospital surged to more than six or seven hours last weekend.

“It’s terrifying,” said Dr. Amaly Rahman, pediatric emergency room physician at the Stollery Hospital.

“It’s actually very scary, and you feel terrible,” Rahman added. “A six or seven-hour wait is actually a small wait compared to some people left waiting 12 or 13 hours only to leave without ever being seen.”

Heather Smith, United Nurses of Alberta president, said she is hearing reports of “excessive wait times” from staff across the province.

According to Smith, a combination of lingering COVID-19 patients, increasing cases of influenza, and staff absences due to vacation or sick leave are pressuring health-care workers who are running out of beds.

“Normally we might see this kind of numbers of admitted inpatients in emergency at peak periods in the day,” Smith told CTV News Edmonton. “But they’re not just seeing these pressures and patient volumes at peak periods.”

Rahman said another factor increasing wait times is that walk-in clinics, which are seeing short wait times, are still turning away patients experiencing COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, meaning ERs are running out of space as they triage the most to least severe cases.

When asked earlier this week about emergency room wait times, Health Minister Jason Copping said the province is working to address concerns.

“I have had a conversation with Alberta Health Services and what they are doing is moving resources within the system to be able to respond,” Copping said.

Smith says taking staff from one ward or department is only a “band-aid” solution.

“That’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “It’s a short-term solution, and it’s a very stressful undertaking.”

“Yes, we have to do it in the short-term, but what we really need is acknowledgment that we have a crisis in this province,” she added. “We need real solutions, not just band aids.”

The minister added that staff are being asked to work overtime and that AHS is looking to fill more positions. Copping says 600 student nurses have been hired, and a total projected 2,800 health-care positions will be made available.

“That’s the message we always get — work more, work harder,” Rahman said. “We are all working at our absolute capacity.”

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